Steel crisis: Government ready to step in financially to save Port Talbot plant


The Government is ready to step in with state financial support to save the Port Talbot steelworks, Business Secretary Sajid Javid has said.

Mr Javid signalled ministers were working on plans to reduce energy costs and take on some of the pension liabilities in an effort to attract a buyer for the loss-making steel maker.

However, he faced calls from Labour for his resignation after he disclosed he had been aware the plant's owners, Tata Steel, had been meeting last week in Mumbai to discuss the future of its UK operations but chose to go ahead with a trip to Australia.

The Business Secretary played down suggestions that Tata could close down its UK operations, with the loss of 15,000 jobs, in as little as six weeks if a buyer was not found in time.

However, he acknowledged that the Government would have to come forward with some financial assistance if there was to be a deal.

"Tata will issue an offer document very soon. Alongside that, the UK Government know - I've known for a while - that we're also going to have to offer support to clinch that buyer and give that steel plant a long-term, viable future," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"I do feel, though, for lots of reasons after talking to Tata and many others involved in this, that there will be enough time to find the right buyer working with the Government and being able to take this forward."

While he did not believe that nationalisation was a solution to the problems of the business, he insisted he was ruling nothing out.

"I don't think nationalisation is a solution to this. Having said that, I also think it wouldn't be prudent to rule anything out at this stage, but I think that nationalisation is rarely an answer in these situations," he said.

However he said that the high energy costs compared to the business's European competitors and its reported £15 billion pension liabilities - dating back to the days of the nationalised British Steel - were issues that would have to be addressed in any deal.

His comments came as the steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta - whose commodities firm Liberty House has already saved a number of UK steel works - was in discussions about a rescue plan for Port Talbot.

"We would need a proper partnership with the Government. I don't know what that would entail at this stage. We've started the discussions ... we are in the process of starting a discussion with Tata," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

His preliminary proposals are said to involve replacing the plant's traditional blast furnaces with modern arc furnaces used to produce raw steel by melting scrap.

However he said that he was not able to take on Tata's entire UK operation as it was "too big an undertaking".

Mr Javid disclosed that the Government had known "a few weeks ago" that Tata was reviewing its UK operations and had persuaded it not to go ahead with the immediate closure of Port Talbot.

However, he admitted that it had not been aware of the significance of the board meeting last Tuesday in Mumbai where a decision was taken to sell off its UK assets.

"What we actually knew was that it was an important meeting. But when they made the announcement we didn't anticipate they would go that far," he said.

For Labour, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he was "shocked" Mr Javid had pressed on with his trade mission to Australia even though he knew the meeting was taking place, only to have to rush back to London when the announcement was made.

"I think we need someone else doing the job. We need someone who is more dynamic. If I was David Cameron I'd be looking to bring in someone who is more effective," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend.